It’s entirely possible that J Stone would have blown up without the intervention of his late friend Nipsey Hussle. He’s got a pleasant self-described “West coastin” flow to listen to on “The Definition of Pain” that these days sounds more like New York than NY rappers do, who are too busy modulating their voices to sound like their Floridian and Georgian peers. That’s besides the point though. Listening to the ghost of Hussle rap on “LeBron James” (also featuring Dom Kennedy) you get a feeling that J and Nipsey would have been a perfect tag team. Their playful back and forth fits together naturally over the beat, and it’s no surprise to find that Hussle thought highly enough of Stone to sign him to his All Money In No Money Out record label.
Some of that “money in” definitely went “out” though to pay for all the features on “The Definition of Pain.” I don’t think T-Pain comes cheap and he definitely shouldn’t. For all intents and purposes he popularized the idea of AutoTuned vocals to the masses, and he’s still far better at using it than just about everybody else who does it. The Get Cool produced “Do Better” is a good showcase for Pain’s crooning, but J Stone’s no nonsense lyrics ride just as hard.
“I ain’t never had nothin nigga, I had to hustle
with ambitions to get mo’, plus I had the muscle
Never sell my soul, I just sell out shows
I ain’t care about them hoes, I wore the same clothes
Grind hard, ball later, that’s how the game goes
Stacked so much money now three times a day I change clothes”
I hear a lot of different influences in J Stone’s style and delivery — everyone from Kendrick Lamar to The Game to the aforementioned Hussle. He doesn’t jack their swagger, he mixes it up and makes it his own. While some artists who got to this point would be happy just to have made it, J Stone takes Biggie’s classic “What’s Beef?” and flips it to bemoan the fact that “grannies are burying their grandsons.” Dave East joins the track for a little more of that “money out” but I’d argue it was well spent.
It’s hard to ignore the star caliber of the cameos on J Stone’s album — T.I. appearing on “Started Wit Nothin’,” E-40 appearing on “Hella Toasted” and Trae The Truth on “Soul Search” among others, but it’s equally hard to ignore how the guest stars touch multiple regions — New York, Houston, Atlanta, Vallejo and so on. Even though Stone repeatedly makes it clear that he’s a West coast born and bred emcee, there’s undeniably an intent to take his career beyond local turf and make it national. As big as the size and population of California is he wouldn’t have to do so to be a success, but as songs like “I Came Up” show, he’s not going to settle for a little bit of fortune and fame. “My destiny is greatness.”
Stone walks the line between bragging about his success and rapping about how hard he worked to get it in a way that makes him more appealing to the listener. You end up not resenting him for buying “a Beemer and a Jag in the same month” because he Smith Barney’d his way to the top and earned it. By the time you’re done listening to “The Definition of Pain” you wind up 100% convinced that Nipsey Hussle made the right call to sign him, and if the label has a future after his passing, he’s definitely it.